Plotting the dotted line

Commissioners Connie Feist and Richard Sabol on the Minot Park Board administration committee met Wednesday to discuss a drafted contract template for donors to the Minot Park Foundation, whenever sums greater than $5,000 are being given.

The template was discussed at last month’s board meeting, where it had been decided that such documentation would be useful as the park district began moving ahead with its new projects. In addition to spelling out what purposes the pledged sums are to be intended for, the contract would set a timeframe for receiving the funding being agreed upon.

The contract also makes clear that money put into the Foundation stays there in the event of inadequate funding or unforeseen changes of circumstance.

In the past, Minot Park District has had to deal with some projects failing to materialize due to missed fundraising goals, lack of expected interest, and so forth. Once money has been put into the Foundation’s fund and reported as a tax deduction, it becomes an administrative headache to return.

“You can’t undo that, once you do that,” said Ron Merritt, the city’s director of parks. He cited as an example the problematic Souris River Botanical Conservatory project from several years ago, which kept shifting sites and failed to meet its funding quota. As the idea became untenable, the conservatory’s backers wanted their money back.

In the event of inadequate funding, under the contract what money has been contributed may be transferred to and merged with an existing endowment or other fund whose purpose will most closely accomplish its initial intention. If circumstances change to the point where that purpose cannot be achieved, it will be put to the board how best to reappropriate that money for other Foundation projects.

Merritt said that this might hopefully encourage groups to set up their own nonprofits to collect funding before paying it over to the Foundation, as is being done with the Maysa Arena expansion.

In discussing the contents of the draft contract, commissioners identified several points that might need further clarification.

One was the problem of sharing additional costs.

“This is looking at the money that’s coming in,” noted Feist, “but it’s not looking at the other side of the equation.” She pointed out that in the current climate of building activity, bids coming in considerably over-estimate have been a recurring problem. The costs initially agreed upon going into a project might not at all reflect the number seen on the final invoice. If the project partner cannot or refuses to help share those additional costs, the Foundation might have to reallocate its own money to make up the difference, and write it off.

“We need to cover our bases somehow,” Sabol said, concerned that a more informal understanding could lead to funding problems, and even legal action if left unresolved.

“I think at the beginning of the project we need to have that conversation,” said Merritt. Generally it is taken on good faith that the partner groups may be expected to share in the financial responsibilities. “They should understand that, but sometimes not always.”

Naming was another issue, in particular determining what proportion of a project’s cost merits getting the naming rights and whether that should be indefinite or for a set amount of time.

“It has to be universal, in my opinion,” Feist said, regarding any arrangement they might agree upon.

Also too, they wondered whether a name might sometimes be inappropriate for a particular project, such as if a brewery wanted to put its name to a park or children’s amenity.

“Maybe there’d be a venue where that would be appropriate,” Merritt considered, but that would have to be discussed and weighed by the board.

These things in mind, the committee recommened sending the draft along to the park board next week on Feb. 18 for its monthly meeting.

The committee also recommended for next week the renewal of the park district’s flood recovery line of credit, through Bremer Bank for up to $1.5 million.

“We’ve done this every year just to keep it in case we need it,” said Merritt, accessible in case unanticipated project costs are come across and are needed in a pinch. “At least it’s there for that.” The parks district hopes to wrap up its remaining flood recovery efforts by the end of this year.